Collins has published a new dictionary which has several useful features. I believe it is still in beta form. It impressed the heck out of me.
1. Definitions, of course, and the phonetic representation of the word.
2. A comprehensive list of synonyms and of related terms and related words. For the word “beat,” for example, related terms include “beat it,” “beat up,” etc., and for nearby words there are “beat a retreat,” and “beat around the bush.”
3. Audio audio files which pronounce the word using standard American English and standard British English. Not all words have this feature.
4. Translations of the word into 24 different languages, from Finnish, to Korean, to Arabic. I noticed that Hungarian, Swahili, and Hindi were missing.
There are also English to Spanish/German/French versions, though these seemed very beta to me.
5. Usage examples: for “doggie” (or “doggy”) there is “A close friend describes their Kenmore Hills home, on Brisbane’s westside, as doggy heaven.” COURIER, SUNDAY MAIL (2004)”
6. In the case of doggies and many other nouns, there are photographs.
7. The origin of the word is also given, though not as comprehensively as in the Oxford English Dictionary.
Even more enticing — the dictionary is free online at :
Exercise: This will be a welcome addition to exercises on lexicography, such as comparative definitions, and comparative features.
It will also be of interest to students who are struggling with mastery of standard forms of English, since the audio files are very clear.
Quote from La Canada Valley Sun story about sexual and racial harassment of students by a teacher: ”Spurred by complaints that the La Cañada High math teacher regularly used racist and sexist language in her classroom, officials presented a modified draft of the district’s code of ethics during a public meeting Monday.”
Think about this a minute. What will the “code of ethics” say? Will they ban particular words, and if so, which ones? Which race, and which sex, was the teacher’s victim? What words would be used to harass a girl? a boy? Which words would be used to harrass a Jew, a Hispanic, an African-American, a Caucasian? Is it a matter of words, or a matter of contexts. If it is a matter of context, how can you ban a context? Perhaps the code of ethics might stipulate that teachers “should be respectful toward their students.” There are many respectful ways of using a word like “nigger,” or “spic,” or “beaner;” for example, one could quote someone else using these words, or quote the words as they appeared in a movie. Perhaps the teacher is harassing students by choosing certain materials to study in the class. Which materials should be banned? I am giving my students Huckleberry Finn to read, which has the word “nigger” in it, and a disparaging view of people with dark skin. Should I withdraw the assignment?
Exercise: Devise in class a “Code of Ethics” for teachers and students in a your school. What guidelines could you create which would guaranty respectful exchanges between student and teacher? Would you want to simply take the subjects of race and gender/sex off the table? Would you ban particular words? Wouldn’t these two actions sanitize the classroom of subjects which would be very important to our society?
We often think of dictionaries as definitive in their definitions, without questioning their authority, yet there are many different kinds of dictionaries, and students should be encouraged to use them with discretion and sophistication.
An example: Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, 5th ed. (WNCD) aims its definitions at the “college student and general reader,” while The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (accessed online) (CEOEO) aims to present a far wider range of definitions, “Common, Literary, Colloquial, Scientific, Foreign, Dialectical, Slang, Technical.” They note “Main Words, Subordinate Words, Combinations, including the Identification, Morphology, Signification and Illustrative Quotations.” They include the word’s etymology in depth. WNCD takes its examples and definitions mainly from spoken customs, while CEOEO takes them from a literary database.
Exercise: Ask students to investigate the presentation of two words of their choice in two different dictionaries. They should read the front matter of both dictionaries as well as the definitions. They might comment on the fonts used. The rest of the exercise can be up to the students — what do they find the same or different in the presentations, and which do they like better.
Another Exercise: Ask students to do some research on the Web and find out how many different kinds of dictionary there are; for example, Web dictionaries with an audio module giving correct pronunciation, multilingual dictionaries (French to French, and English to French, etc.), sign language dictionaries, dictionaries for children, etymological dictionaries, thesauruses (what is the plural? I don’t know), slang dictionaries, regional dictionaries showing distinct usage in, say, Louisiana or Texas, and so on, and on, and on